It’s a new working week but you might already be tired of the overly familiar thought patterns that are playing in your head.
Your boss favours your colleague; your partner was completely to blame for the duff weekend; your clients should be more appreciative of fantastic work.
Welcome to self-talk – the things we tell ourselves as we engage with the world.
Self-talk can range from your own version of a demolition derby to a wild amalgam of American cheer-leading teams. You can convince yourself that you are a lifetime loser with no hope of redemption, or a world-conquering hero.
Your own self-talk might switch gears at the drop of a hat, jump between familiar patterns or simply keep up the same old monologue. However it chats on, it can easily become divorced from reality.
Self-talk is rarely accurate in retrospect – but it can play a significant part in defining your future.
It views what has happened in the past with a highly selective lens, only picking up on the things that suit its argument. There might be some ‘facts’ in there, but offered in a context that matches a pre-defined script. Yes, you got a pay rise, but only because everyone else did too. They laughed at your joke, but they were probably laughing at you, not with you.
When it looks to the future, self-talk has a big say in your potential for success.
Some of this is obvious. The person who tells themself they won’t get the job anyway and fails to update their CV, doesn’t get the job.
What’s less obvious is what happens in your brain as a direct result of your self-talk.
Positive self-talk, which reminds you of previous successes and focuses on desired positive outcomes, reinforces the neural pathways to the mental resources that will help you to succeed. Negative self-talk has the opposite effect, and makes your skills and resources harder to locate and utilise.
Becoming aware of the thought-patterns that govern our perception of the world, and the stories we constantly tell ourselves, can be a powerfully transformative experience. It forms a central part of much of our executive coaching work.
There are seven thinking traps in to which we all fall at some point. They are mental short-cuts that skew our perception and divorce us from the reality of a situation. They make us do things we regret and feed our insecurities.
The seven traps of self-talk were identified by Aaron Beck, the founding father of cognitive behaviour therapy. They are as follows:
- Jumping to far-flung conclusions based on one piece of information.
- Using tunnel vision to extract only negatives (or indeed positives) from a situation to underscore an existing world view.
- Magnifying (or minimising) the importance of certain factors, again to underscore an existing viewpoint.
- Personalising every situation so that we are always at the centre of them.
- Externalising situations so that everything is someone else’s fault. The government. The customer. The traffic warden. But not me.
- Generalising, so that one detail is allowed to dominate our view of a person or event.
- Prophesising, when we decide that an outcome is inevitable, based on a single factor. Such as: new boss? That’s my career on hold for good, then.
Becoming aware that these traps exist is the first step to avoiding them. We are then better placed to develop a narrative that allows us to communicate with greater authenticity with the people around us and with ourselves.
And if we are less trapped in our thinking, we will be less trapped in our behaviours, and therefore more open to new and happy experiences – this week, and beyond.
This post is adapted from My-Fi: how to connect with yourself and those around you by Ken Kelling and Chris Wood. Available for download here.